If you are like a lot of the world, you suddenly having to lead your team and your meetings online. What do you need to do differently than your regular practices in the room?
Distraction, distraction, distraction
It is hard enough to keep everyone on track when you are together in a room. Then add technology and distance. Your phone and email chirping in the background. Getting on Zoom and wondering whether your co-workers have pants on. Your kids or pets making a ruckus in the next room. Online meetings have to fight for people’s attention even more than in person.
Ask for their focus
When you meet online, everything else on the person’s computer or device is there to distract them. A simple step you can take is to ask them to close their extra tabs, email, notifications, etc. for the duration of the meeting. Remember to take breaks. Take a moment for everyone to get out of their chair and stretch.
Match your tech tools with your participants
You may be excited about trying out the online brainstorming tool you just heard about but make sure that what you choose matches the skills of your participants. You want people focused on your conversation not on struggling to make the tool work. So for some groups Zoom and a google doc will be a perfect match. For others Zoom or another video conferencing tool plus an online brainstorming tool like Miro or Mural will work great.
Educate your participants
You can try and avoid spending the first 10 minutes of the meeting getting everyone acquainted with the technology systems by creating a video or two that provides a quick overview. Loom is good for this and very easy to use. You might also give the group a small assignment that gets them into the tool you will use for note taking. Something as simple as asking them to open a google doc and write their name at the top of the document. Or if you are using a more sophisticated tool such as Mural – have them do a check in process – this kick starts your check in at the beginning of the meeting and has them play with the tool with no time pressure.
Need to learn more? Consider enrolling in my four-week group coaching program, Effective Online Facilitation.
For more tips
We are spending our lives on Zoom and other video conferencing systems these days. What separates a meeting you dread and one that gets you excited about the work you do?
Even before we consider the challenges of meeting online, let’s consider what makes any meetings deadly.
So, review what makes any meeting work better. You can download my meeting planning worksheet to help guide you through the planning process.
Better online meetings
A couple steps for getting comfortable leading online meetings
This is important for any meeting but especially important when you also have to manage the technology you are using. As a first step, finishing the phrase – “By the end of this meeting, we will have XYZ” is a great place to start.
Online this is even more important. You will need to plan what tools you are using. You will need to make sure everyone can access the documents you will be referring to during the meeting, the files or system you will be using to capture notes and brainstorms, etc. Also plan for a lower tech plan B.
You need to familiarize with the systems you are using to run the meeting. Take some time to play with the system before you pull the group together. Consider testing some features with a colleague and see what you can “break.”
Want help educating yourself? Consider enrolling in my four-week group coaching program, Effective Online Facilitation.
Groups often fear working on a consensus basis because they are afraid of the time it will take to make a decision. They are afraid of being caught in a spiral of discussion, more discussion and yet more discussion and no resolution. They may be afraid of this because they may assume that everyone has to be 100% behind a decision for the group to move ahead.
When a group is considering an issue, ideally there is a discussion that considers a wide range of options. Then the discussion comes to a clear end point with a decision. Once a decision is made the group moves to action. This image illustrates this ideal.
Americans tend to be quite action oriented and in our culture we can get impatient easily, wanting to jump to a decision. And thus more frequently it feels like this:
Part of the group thinks a decision has been made and others thinks the item is still up for discussion. And still others may not be clear what decision is on the table.
Once the group is clear about what they are deciding, a useful tool for testing the level of agreement is the consensus continuum.
Applying the continuum
I was part of a board that used this continuum when it was deliberating about a very challenging situation. There was no good solution to the high stakes problem we were facing. There were only several bad choices to choose from. Which bad choice was better than the other? We deliberated for a long time. Deliberation happened over multiple meetings, over multiple weeks. Ultimately we were able to make a decision that everyone in the group could live with even if it was not their preferred option by using this tool.
How many people you need to have in the 1-3 zone will depend on how high stakes a decision it is. Using this as a check in can move along even decisions that may seem like they are low stakes but are taking a long time. You may find it is higher stakes for some in the group.
Making time for process
Groups often want to jump to action and resist taking time on ‘process’ issues. Being clear about how the group makes decisions is a core process issue that rarely gets discussed. Taking the time can actually save the group both time and angst in the long run.
Have a group that needs help with how they are working together? Reach out for a coaching session.
Through my work I interview a lot of people. Most projects include some interviews or focus groups as part of the discovery process. I used to end my interviews with the question, “Is there anything else I need to know for this project/process?”
Most of the time the answer would be, “no, nothing else.”
Then one time I said, “What else do I need to know for this project/process?” And a whole lot more spilled out from the person I was talking with.
“Is there anything else…?” “What else…?” doesn’t seem on surface to be very different.
Yet it shifts the focus from a finite yes/no answer to the more open ended, “what else…?” And embedded in the question is the assumption that there is something else. Something else that I could not have anticipated in the questions I have already asked.
Small tweaks can make a difference
It seems like a little bit of a throw away. Yet often the most interesting and revealing answers are to that question.
So small tweaks can have a big impact. What small tweaks have you made recently in your work that had an impact?
Despite the popularity of Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why,” leadership groups often have trouble staying at that level. Think of a time when your board or leadership team was meeting and someone brought up a new idea for a new program. It’s likely that without a lot of discussion about why you should or should not do the program, the discussion jumped into how you would do the program.
Is this new initiative strategically important?
I was working with an organization and another organization had come to them with an idea for a partnership. The senior leadership charged with managing the strategic direction of the organization assembled to consider the proposal. Rather than staying in the ‘why’ – why should we enter into this partnership? Is it in alignment with our mission? Does it support the goals articulated in our strategic plan? Will it help us reach a key audience? Will it build our brand and reputation? Does it capitalize on our core competencies? Will it help us strengthen key capacities? Will we be filling an important gap in the market? Instead they skipped right over those questions and had a long discussion about how the partnership could work. Who would be involved? When would be good timing to get started? So the key question of whether the partnership was important for the organization was missed.
Why are we working on this project?
Too often when teams start working together on a project they make the same mistake. Without talking about why they are assembled, what is important about the project, what they each bring to the project, they jump to project management. They start outlining and assigning tasks. This is why I find the Drexel-Sibbet model of team development particularly useful. It reminds the group to start with why. Its second stage considers who is in the group and takes some time to get to know each other. Only after why and who has been answered is the group truly ready to shift into what and how.
So the next time you are starting something new – considering a new idea for a new program or initiative or starting a new project, spend some time discussing the why. Why is this important for us? And if there is not enough ‘there, there’ when you answer why, remember you can also choose not to pursue the new idea!
Need help with an important conversation in your organization? Reach out for a coaching call.
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.